Category Archives: Notes from the Southwest Corner

Giving Thanks

As i began copying this from my Lebanon Democrat columns, it occurred to me that many of you likely are giving thanks this will be my last “Thanksgiving” post this year. To tell the truth, i’m getting a bit tired of it myself. This column from five years ago is one of my favorites. You may recognize some of my thoughts from earlier posts. Even so, this column from five years ago is one of my favorites.

While i give my thanks, one will be for being where i can not worry about all of the craziness that has besieged us this year. i am old enough to observe it all with some sense of clarity, with no need for panic as we are relatively secure, and if we continue to be observant and careful, we can escape from the pandemic and not endanger anyone else. i am thankful you and i are in this country which, in spite of the disagreements of who and how, has the desire to become a better place for all of us to live.

Have a happy and thankful Thanksgiving.

Notes from the Southwest Corner: Giving thanks (2015)

SAN DIEGO – It’s that week again: the one with the day to give thanks.

In the Lebanon of my youth, “Thanksgiving” was pretty much a stand-alone event. Sure, the children knew Christmas was a month away. Yet, we weren’t chomping at the bit. Until my late teens, a month was a long time. I was worried about being good, because that old man up north was “making a list, checking it twice, trying to find out who’s been naughty or nice.”

It was a tough being good for that long. I usually didn’t make it. The threat of receiving “ashes and switches” was real. I confess, now a safe distance away from such potential tragedies, I probably deserved the ashes and switches several Christmases.

Christmas wasn’t on our radar at Thanksgiving. Last year, I wrote of our trips to Rockwood where Thanksgiving was in the Victorian home of “Mama Orr,” our cousins’ grandmother who adopted us. Other Thanksgivings were in Chattanooga, Red Bank actually, where Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Pipey Orr would put on a feast.

Yet the preponderance of our Thanksgivings were on Castle Heights Avenue.

The women bustled about the narrow kitchen with pots and pans clanging. Each of the Prichard sisters scurried about with our grandmother watching to determine when a task should be done better, her way.

The grownups ate at the dining room table. The children were shuffled off to a small table in the kitchen. The best china and crystal were on display. Each sister contributed her own special dishes. One made fruit salad; one made cranberry relish; each had pies. My uncle demanded my mother make her prune cake. The turkey was baked in the oven. The dressing and the gravy remain the best ever, at least in my mind.

With the desserts, the coup de gras for the children and the men was boiled custard. Each sister made their own variety, believing their particular version was the best. Now they are all gone, I can admit my mother’s was the best. Thankfully, my sister and my younger daughter can produce boiled custard that is similar to my mother’s.

The men would praise the boiled custard, but delighted in “flavoring” it.  We were old school Methodists. Booze was not allowed in our house…except for a small half pint secreted way back in a cupboard that never saw the light of day unless the men needed to flavor their boiled custard. The bourbon was decanted into a small crystal pitcher that held maybe a half-cup. All of the men would pour several drops of the magic elixir into their custard. The women and children would use vanilla for flavoring. Around ten-years old, I asked to flavor my boiled custard with what the men used.

My worry about ashes and switches started early that year.

Everyone ate too much.

The weather always was the same: cold, dry, crisp, and sunny. It was still okay to play outside. Every year, I would wish for snow. After all, in McClain Elementary School, we sang about going to grandmother’s house over the river and through the woods in a sleigh. I thought that was the way it was supposed to be.

Thanksgiving was a magical day, unfettered by early Christmas commercials. Black Friday, blissfully, did not exist. There was one pro football game on the black and white television. On the radio, I could listen to Tennessee play Vanderbilt or Middle Tennessee play Tennessee Tech, but that was the extent of sports.

And before the big meal, with the sun streaming through the dining room windows, we would give thanks.

*     *     *

This year is yet another variation for us in the Southwest corner. I will smoke the turkey and Maureen will serve a fabulous meal, ending with pear pie, a family tradition. Maureen’s older sister, Patsy, her son Bill and daughter-in-law Laura will join us, a relative small event.

Sometime, probably after the meal, I plan to climb to the top of my hill and look over the place I’ve adopted as my other home. I will give thanks as those first new 53 settlers and the 90 Wampanoag tribe members, who preceded the Pilgrims by thousands of years, gave thanks and shared a feast together.

We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go. I just hope the future includes boiled custard, hopefully with a dab of flavoring.

A Ride Down Another Memory Lane

This morning, i shared a photo of Col. JB Leftwich i had put on Facebook five years ago. The link attached to the memory doesn’t work. It was a Lebanon Democrat work and apparently, the new owners of the newspaper did not transfer older editions with Coach’s columns and mine. The below is my column from the bad link in the . As i said, i wish i could sit down with him on that back porch room and talk to him, with one of Glen Ed’s dirty martinis of course, and discuss the state of journalism, especially print journalism, and sports. He inspired this column:

Notes from the Southwest Corner: A ride down another memory lane

SAN DIEGO – After six months of pretty frenetic travel, my wife and I are back in the Southwest corner for what could be as much as three months.

I am not sure what to do with myself.

There are all sorts of things I need to do. This retirement thing is so full of medical checkups, administrative requirements, honey-do’s, home projects, keeping track of family and friends, and, of course, golf. Then, there is this column I write every week. I feel like the Haigha, the March Hare in “Alice in Wonderland,” running hither and yon yelling “I’m late, I’m late.”

As I mulled over all of this last week, I also attacked my “to-do” list. One item was to ensure my old files, contacts, and ticklers were not required from my last employer, Pacific Tugboat Service. Thursday, I gathered up my laptop and headed toward the bay.

As I drove down my hill, I decided to bypass the freeways even though I was late enough to miss the dreaded Southwest corner commuter traffic. I wanted to drive the roads that have been part of my life on and off for forty years. I took the back roads.

As I turned down my alternate route, the back way as we used to say, I thought of JB Leftwich, “Coach” as I and other journalists from Castle Heights called him. He wrote a beautiful column for this newspaper about 40 years ago. His path led from his home on Castle Heights Avenue through a winding route to the Methodist church, then on East Main next to the post office. Coach reflected on what used to be at various sites along his route.

Coach’s route was two miles. Mine was close to 13…so I drove. But I reflected on what used to be much like Coach must have done on his hike.

I headed northwest from Chula Vista to National City. Both were sleepy little residential bedroom communities when I first came to the Southwest corner. Both still have small pockets of small homes, typical of houses built in the 1950s. Chula Vista has grown into a major city in its own right and continues with continual development of the 100,000-acre ranch once owned by the Scripps family. National City is auto dealerships and industrial businesses with those residential pockets decaying and slowly giving ground to commerce.

When I reached the waterfront, I turned north on Harbor Drive. The Naval Station’s southern piers used to be for the Mothball Fleet. Decommissioned ships, mostly destroyers from World War II, silently held vigil over that end of the bay. They had been weather proofed for a possible later call to action. No one was on the piers except for a lone guard.

Later, the mothball fleet was mostly scrapped with a few moved to other locations. The Mothball Fleet is now located in Philadelphia, Pa.; Bremerton, Wash.; Suisun Bay, Calif.; and Pearl Harbor. Active ships, mostly amphibious ships moved to the southern piers. My favored route to work 30-40 years ago was through the back gate, opened only for a few hours at the beginning and end of the workday. The route was not well known, and I could slide in and out while avoiding the mass of traffic at major gates.

Driving north, I shrugged. Modern has replaced shabby. Training buildings, well-appointed maintenance facilities, and a dental command are where old boats and landing craft were strewn haphazardly in weedy lots on the “dry side,” inland from my route. Now the gates to the “wet side” are modern, expensive technical security wonders. Base security civilians and “aquaflage” uniformed security Navy personnel man the gates. Sharply dressed marines with snappy salutes were the sentinels back when.

Officer, chief, petty officer, and enlisted clubs have been replaced by a few and little-used “all-hands” clubs. The gate itself touts the new Navy. Just past the entrance is roundabout with a an impressive flag display.

The Navy has changed. Like it’s surroundings and entrances, today’s Navy is more efficient; more technically savvy; in its way, more pin-pointedly lethal; safer; and more politically correct. Until my latter years on active duty, it was ribald; labor intensive; a work hard, play hard bastion of…well, sailors being sailors. Today it is more a social engineering system, embroiled in political positioning and using weapon technology “platforms.”

In truth, it is a much better Navy. On my drive of memories, I accepted I liked the old Navy better.

World Enough and Time

Chores and book writing took a break this afternoon. The run/walk i planned has been moved until later unless i ditch the whole thing. So lots of thoughts floating around reminiscing about what was when.

Today, as i often do, i marvel at how i ended up writing so much. Don’t know why. Don’t even know where it came from. i do know that last gig as a journalist was a fitting closure to one phase. It could have been my last writing kick. But as i wrote in my last column for the Lebanon Democrat., it wasn’t my last writing, and i noted such in my final column. If it had not been for this burning drive i have to write this book i continue to pursue and i hadn’t stumbled on these things called “blogs,” a title i still do not like, it might have ended. But it didn’t.

It was fitting my time at the Democrat ended when it did. 500 columns, not counting several years of the business leadership column, just shy of ten years for my op-ed weekly. Sadly, new ownership took over my newspaper, the one that was truly “local” when i grew up, like the publisher and editor living right across the street local.

This was not the last column but it was one near the end, perhaps the penultimate one (i’m too lazy to look it up now). 

It was a great run.

Notes from the Southwest Corner: “World enough, and time”

SAN DIEGO – Second thoughts keep coming to me as we near the end of this gig called “Notes from the Southwest Corner.”

Amidst those thoughts is the daunting task of how to close these columns with grace. In one way, my recent respiratory problems gave me time to think about that when these words kept popping into my brain: “World Enough, and Time,” seeming to reflect the end of my era as a column writer.

“World enough, and time” was written by Andrew Marvel around the mid 1650s in poem “357. To His Coy Mistress.” It is considered the finest of Marvell’s poems and “possibly the best carpe diem poem in English.” In case you, like me need to look that up, “carpe diem,” Latin for “seize the day,” in its current use is defined as “used to urge someone to make the most of the present time and give little thought to the future.” It seems to fit.

In the poem, Marvell’s words also suggest how I feel about this upcoming closure: “But at my back I always hear / Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near; / And yonder all before us lie / Deserts of vast eternity…” Yes, that’s close. Somewhere around my 73rd birthday in January, I decided the grind, albeit a tiny grind by most standards, of putting out a weekly column was producing columns of a quality not up to my standards.

As I have for most of my life, I remain a little defiant, resistant to forces even though some inevitable like time and distance. Part of me wishes to defy them, to keep on like Marvel “Through the iron gates of life: / Thus, though we cannot make our sun / Stand still, yet we will make him run.

But now, there is not world enough and time. This is coming to an end. Today I go back to the real roots of my writing and extolling those who sparked my real interest. It is time for me to move on make that old sun run.

My real writing began when I recognized I really wasn’t going to be the next Roy Rogers, Clifton Tribble, Johnny “The Drum” Major,” Doak Walker, Don Hoak, Roberto Clemente, or even Nellie Fox. That’s when JB Leftwich channeled my sports enthusiasm into print. Prior to that, J. Bill Frame had shown me support and understanding and much more so, the nobility of putting ink on paper.

At Castle Heights, Lindsey Donnell, Paul Wooten, and Tom Harris among others whetted my appetite for literature and writing. JB used his influence to land me a job at “The Nashville Banner” under Fred Russell, a three-year experience impacting the rest of my life. My sports writing idol Russell took me under his wing and gave me hope sports journalism just might work.

At Middle Tennessee, Richard Peck and Bill Holland allowed me to be creative within the bounds of academic requirements. Bill Holland was not only an inspiration but became a close friend. My writing for Holland and Peck remain my best efforts.

John B. Johnson, a close Vanderbilt friend and ground breaking newspaper journalist gave me the opportunity to pursue my dreams as his sports editor at “The Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times.” Family responsibilities ended the dream, but I will always be indebted to “Yanch” for giving me the chance.

In 2007, Amelia Morrison Hipps took a chance on an out-of-town columnist, and this column began. Amelia, a newshound with a strict adherence to the stylebook, was my champion throughout her tenure. We have had and continue to have a terrific relationship.

Then Jared Felkins and I became co-conspirators in the realm of local newspapers. Being in the Southwest corner, I do not know if Lebanon fully appreciates what they have. Jared focuses on bringing you the most interesting and pertinent local news. Jared, in short, is a champ in local journalism.

I’m sure I have omitted a number of people who have supported me on my journalism journey. I apologize for the oversight.

The journey is not over. I will continue to write. Some of it may show up here. Nor will my, what do I call it, love of Lebanon fade away. I will continue to write of Lebanon.

My last thanks are reserved for you readers. This decade of writing was always worthwhile knowing you enjoyed my thoughts. It ain’t over yet. It’s just there is not “World enough, and time.”

Figure 1 J. Bill Frame, Fred Russell, and “Coach” JB Leftwich

Memorial Day Revisited

Each year at this time, i have written a post or a column about Memorial Day. One can become trite when trying to come up with something new or putting a new twist on any event. Such efforts, which fall painfully short in my estimation, are why i did not write a daily column when i was a sports editor. The only folks i know who could write a daily column about sports and not get trite often were Fred Russell, Grantland Rice (well, i didn’t really know him), Red Smith, Furman Bisher, and Jim Murray. 

So i ain’t gonna write anymore about one of the few nationally declared holidays i actually rever. Perhaps this day is so special for my military service has given me an understanding of the sacrifice so many made in defense of our flag, our country, our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution. Regardless, it is special to me and i have written about it often. So for the next several days, i will revisit my previous thoughts about this day honoring our fallen heroes. This one is a column i wrote for the Lebanon Democrat. And thank you, Blythe, for giving me Siegfried Sassoon.

Notes from the Southwest Corner:
Memorial Day: the reason for it is unchanged

SAN DIEGO – This past week as usual, I received emails relating to Memorial Day.

Retired military officers send each other missives honoring our late comrades-in-arms around this holiday. But many of last week’s emails came from friends with no military service.

This increased interest in honoring our patriots who died in defense of our country gives me a good feeling, especially considering how it used to be.

As a junior officer, it seemed I carried some stigma because I wore the Navy uniform. It did not bother me personally, but I did feel separated from society, particularly my age group.

It also incensed me when protestors took it out on personnel returning from defending their right to protest. Regardless of the political posturing, those who received the abuse were no more responsible than me.

In my youth, I was awed by the World War I veterans honored at the various parades. I read enough to know of the horrors of trench warfare.

About two years ago, my oldest daughter gave me a copy of The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon. The poems are brutal and describe the gore of that war in grisly detail. Although some of the poetry is darkly beautiful, the overall effect makes one wonder at the logic of war.

Sassoon’s poetry confirmed my feeling about our heroes from that war.

The Second War

Born during the Second World War, I grew up respecting the previous generation’s sacrifice. I have studied pre-war history and am amazed so many can forget so much about where isolationism and non-intervention can lead. I wonder how many United States citizens might not have died had we joined the Allies earlier.

We do not learn from our historical mistakes.

World War II cemeteries across the nation and throughout Europe with thousands and thousands of crosses in military formation and the United States flag flying over them are testament to the honor we bestow on those military dead.

It became my generation’s turn. Initially as I was going through Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, I was too busy learning steam engineering, small boat operations, ship handling, deck seamanship and damage control to be very much aware of what was going on the other side of the world.

But before I went to OCS, I learned Parks McCall, my big brother as a Kappa Sigma pledge at Vanderbilt, had been killed when his aircraft was shot down in Vietnam.

Later while at home after Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer training and en route to my first ship, the U.S.S. Hawkins (DD-873), I found out Bobby Bradley was killed when his A6 with Bobby flying as Naval Flight Officer (NFO), crashed in the Atlantic.

Bobby and I played baseball together and were good friends for as long as I could remember, but I remember him most for volunteering to go on a five-mile hike with me so I could get a merit badge to advance from the Boy Scout’s tenderfoot classification.

Sacrifice hit home and my service took on an entirely new meaning for me.

Remember the Heroes

Over the course of twenty-one years in the Navy, there were very few incidents when I stepped into harm’s way. When I did, I remember them clearly. But overall, it was not much more dangerous than crossing a street in downtown New York. Others from Lebanon, like Bobby and Jim Harding, served in real danger.

Wikipedia, the on-line, open contribution encyclopedia, states General John Logan, the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization, issued General Order 11 in 1868. The order designated May 30 as Decoration Day, which evolved into today’s Memorial Day.

So for almost 150 years, the citizens whom we honor for dying in defense of our freedom have grown astronomically. Even though more folks are honoring our heroes more than in my early Navy days, Memorial Day ceremonies compete with car races, picnics, and backyard barbeques.

But this morning in the Southwest corner, I will go to the top of my hill and raise my flag at 8:00 a.m. and back down to half mast as is the protocol along with all of the ships in the harbor doing the same, and I will pause and remember my friends who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, for me.

I hope you do something similar. Those heroes earned this much.

 

I Knew Admiral Rickover and He Knew Me

I Knew Admiral Rickover and He Knew Me

BONITA, CA – Last Friday, one regular golfer noted he had an Admiral Rickover story.

When I mentioned last week’s column and the midshipmen who broke his engagement only to be rejected by Rickover, my golfer exclaimed, “I knew that guy. He was my roommate at the Academy.”

The two stories were similar but took different twists at the end. When Rickover noticed the roommate’s grades had slipped, the midshipman confided his fiancé had moved to Annapolis for his senior year, a distraction, but his focus would be on nuclear power if accepted. Then Rickover used the ploy he had used with my story.

“Call you fiancé and cancel the engagement,” Rickover demanded. Doing as told, the midshipman called his fiancé with Rickover listening, he announced, “Honey, I just wanted to tell you I’m going to be an Naval aviator, not a nuclear submariner.”

Then there were two moments when I was A&M’s nuclear power advisor and in Rickover’s gun sight.

Texas A&M was renowned for it’s nuclear engineering program, and one NROTC cadet was a brilliant nuclear engineer. He held a 4.0 grade point average when I counseled him in preparation for the Navy’s Nuclear Power program acceptance process.

“Midshipman (name not included intentionally), I am sure you will get to the final interview with Admiral Rickover,” I commenced, “But I can find no commonality in Rickover’s interviewing techniques to tell you what you should say or do.”

“However,” I continued, “The one consistent thing I’ve found in all of the post-interview comments I’ve read is this: If you make a statement or respond to a question from the admiral, do not recant. When interviewees go back on a previous comment to the admiral, they are not accepted in the program.”

Concluding, I cautioned, “So I advise you to stick to your guns, no matter how hard the admiral tries to dissuade you.”

The young man went to Washington, D.C. and flew through the preliminary process. He entered Rickover’s lair in the late morning. When he refused to budge on a statement, Rickover sent him to the “waiting room,” a small room with a chair and a light bulb where he waited for several hours before being summoned again.

Again Rickover pressed him to recant his position. The midshipman refused. He went back to the room for a couple of more hours. The process was repeated into the late evening before Rickover directed him to stay over and see him again the next morning. After another round of refusing to budge and more time in the “waiting room,” the admiral finally asked the midshipman if he had been coached and by whom.”

The midshipman told the admiral “Lieutenant Commander Jewell” in the NROTC unit had given him some suggestions about how to respond in the interview. He was dismissed. Rickover picked up his phone and called the president of Texas A&M. The Admiral demanded his Navy staff, a.k.a. me, should not counsel midshipmen when they were to interview. Then he called the NROTC Unit Commanding Officer, my direct boss, Colonel Ivins. The next morning the colonel called me in and told me what transpired.

“And you know, Jim, Admiral Rickover called in the middle of supper,” he griped, “I swallowed my taco whole, nearly choked.”

The midshipman? He never made it to submarines. The nukes considered him so valuable after he was commissioned, they sent him straight to the research arm of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He never wore a uniform, but did very well.

Another prize midshipman was the regimental commander of the Cadet Corps, probably the first Navy cadet to hold the position. He also was brilliant and loved the Aggie Corps. I gave him the same direction, but it did not prove a factor.

Upon his return, he noted the interview went well until Rickover asked him what was entailed in being the regimental commander. The cadet told Rickover he was responsible for leadership of the 3,000 strong corps. Rickover mumbled something to the effect that was his job.

That evening, the TAMU president and Col. Ivins received their second calls from the admiral. “What the heck do you think you’re doing down there,” he screamed at the president, “You teach them nuclear engineering. I’ll take care of the leadership.”

The colonel got off a bit lighter this time. He didn’t swallow his taco.

 

 

 

Giving Thanks

Yesterday, i began a short Thanksgiving note to preface the column below. The note grew until it was longer than the column and covered a whole bunch of subjects. i have saved it for later editing and publishing.

Today began early. The turkey requires at least seven and one-half hours to smoke. We are dining at 3:00 p.m. Mathematicians, you can figure it out. i put the turkey in the smoker at 6:15 a.m., just to be sure and allow for cooling time. i have significant honey-do’s to accomplish before our guests arrive: a small, but cherished crowd of five will attend. Our sister-in-law Patsy, who makes me feel good, and Mike, who is a talented and nice young man will join Maureen, Sarah, and the goofy one. So this is my best wishes for you and yours on this day of giving thanks.

i will miss many but am glad they are with other family members for this day i find so rewarding. For that, i am thankful.

Thanks. Giving thanks. Not honoring some person, not celebrating past victories, or paying homage to those who have left us, not some holiday begun from a religious tradition turned to commercial glut (the ads in this morning’s newspaper weighed almost as much as the turkey i’m smoking). The turkey is in the smoker. The ads are in the recycle bin, unread. Just giving thanks.

My thanks are just too many to list here. But here are a few:

i truly am thankful for those folks who had the first Thanksgiving. Those folks who had the strength to escape tyranny for a not-so friendly land in a new world and the natives who befriended and helped them and how they worked together even with their differences to live with dignity and celebrate their togetherness (something we should be attempting to replicate today but sadly failing, at least right now).

i am thankful for our military members who are away from home this Thanksgiving. i missed six because of being at sea. i know the loneliness filling thoughts regardless how sumptuous the repast someone’s command serves up. 

i am thankful for my life. i’ve had a good one, crazy, a little off kilter, sort of all over the map in many ways, but it has been a good life i think. i’ve always tried to do the right thing, missed a couple of times, had my intent misinterpreted a couple of times, but overall, i think i’ve been on target most of the time.

And on and on and on.

The below column was written for my Lebanon Democrat weekly series which ran for 500 columns, just shy of ten years. It was published in 2015. i think it describes many of my feelings about Thanksgivings:

SAN DIEGO – It’s that week again: the one with the day to give thanks.

In the Lebanon of my youth, “Thanksgiving” was pretty much a stand-alone event. Sure, the children knew Christmas was a month away. Yet, we weren’t chomping at the bit. Until my late teens, a month was a long time. I was worried about being good, because that old man up north was “making a list, checking it twice, trying to find out who’s been naughty or nice.”

It was a tough being good for that long. I usually didn’t make it. The threat of receiving “ashes and switches” was real. I confess, now a safe distance away from such potential tragedies, I probably deserved the ashes and switches several Christmases.

Christmas wasn’t on our radar at Thanksgiving. Last year, I wrote of our trips to Rockwood where Thanksgiving was in the Victorian home of “Mama Orr,” our cousins’ grandmother who adopted us. Other Thanksgivings were in Chattanooga, Red Bank actually, where Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Pipey Orr would put on a feast.

Yet the preponderance of our Thanksgivings were on Castle Heights Avenue.

The women bustled about the narrow kitchen with pots and pans clanging. Each of the Prichard sisters scurried about with our grandmother watching to determine when a task should be done better, her way.

The grownups ate at the dining room table. The children were shuffled off to a small table in the kitchen. The best china and crystal were on display. Each sister contributed her own special dishes. One made fruit salad; one made cranberry relish; each had pies. My uncle demanded my mother make her prune cake. The turkey was baked in the oven. The dressing and the gravy remain the best ever, at least in my mind.

With the desserts, the coup de gras for the children and the men was boiled custard. Each sister made their own variety, believing their particular version was the best. Now they are all gone, I can admit my mother’s was the best. Thankfully, my sister and my younger daughter can produce boiled custard that is similar to my mother’s.

The men would praise the boiled custard, but delighted in “flavoring” it.  We were old school Methodists. Booze was not allowed in our house…except for a small half pint secreted way back in a cupboard that never saw the light of day unless the men needed to flavor their boiled custard. The bourbon was decanted into a small crystal pitcher that held maybe a half-cup. All of the men would pour several drops of the magic elixir into their custard. The women and children would use vanilla for flavoring. Around ten-years old, I asked to flavor my boiled custard with what the men used.

My worry about ashes and switches started early that year.

Everyone ate too much.

The weather always was the same: cold, dry, crisp, and sunny. It was still okay to play outside. Every year, I would wish for snow. After all, in McClain Elementary School, we sang about going to grandmother’s house over the river and through the woods in a sleigh. I thought that was the way it was supposed to be.

Thanksgiving was a magical day, unfettered by early Christmas commercials. Black Friday, blissfully, did not exist. There was one pro football game on the black and white television. On the radio, I could listen to Tennessee play Vanderbilt or Middle Tennessee play Tennessee Tech, but that was the extent of sports.

And before the big meal, with the sun streaming through the dining room windows, we would give thanks.

*     *     *

This year is yet another variation for us in the Southwest corner. I will smoke the turkey and Maureen will serve a fabulous meal, ending with pear pie, a family tradition. Maureen’s older sister, Patsy, her son Bill and daughter-in-law Laura will join us, a relative small event.

Sometime, probably after the meal, I plan to climb to the top of my hill and look over the place I’ve adopted as my other home. I will give thanks as those first new 53 settlers and the 90 Wampanoag tribe members, who preceded the Pilgrims by thousands of years, gave thanks and shared a feast together.

We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go. I just hope the future includes boiled custard, hopefully with a dab of flavoring.

A Significant Weekend (from 2008)

In case you haven’t noticed, i have not been very active on this website for quite a while. To be honest, i have been a bit down about a number of things and just haven’t been ready to do much of anything except enjoy my life, my family, my friends…er, my bad golf as much as i can. After all, i’m working hard on making it to 76, and regardless of how you cut it, that is old.

i have  considered just giving up on social media and writing because, regardless of my intent, there are people who find something wrong with it. That, of course, is the way life works. Humans have some bad gene or something that makes them want to find something wrong with others My friend and former POW Dave Carey used to describe such people as those who like “to throw rocks over the wall” with no regard to who might get hurt on the other side. i often have the urge to throw rocks, but try to restrain and find out who those other people are on the other side and where we might find common ground. Several years ago, i vowed not to manage relationships and if there was anyone in my life who required me to manage the relationship, i would not do so. No dislike here. That just is their choice, and if they require me to make the contact, do the queries, whatever, then it just wasn’t meant to be. 

About a week ago, i changed my mind about the writing (but not managing relationships). i am really going to finish my book about my XO tour with the beginning of the “Women at Sea” program. i am going to resume frequent posts about my thoughts on now, memories, and previous writings not published here — being old, it is quite possible i will forget i have posted some of these and post repeats — all with the intent of leaving a legacy for my grandson Sam. This is not some chest beating boasting of what i have done. To the contrary, i have made numerous mistakes in my life. i am in a good place because of good decisions and my mistakes. One of my many regrets, as i have mentioned here before, is both of my grandfathers died before i was born. i never knew them and i often wonder what they were like, who they really were. Hopefully, Sam will have all of this stuff here to have some idea who at least one grandfather was. and maybe use my experience to his advantage. That’s it. And that’s enough.

Over the life of this website, i have posted 43 of my 500 “Notes from the Southwest Corner” in The Lebanon Democrat here. The rest will be posted here on a frequent basis, along with many, if not all of my other Democrat column, “Minding Your Own Business,” but under the category, “Pretty Good Management,” which i prefer.

In short: i’m back.

A Significant Weekend

SAN DIEGO – This has been a difficult column to write. Numerous things from my perch in the Southwest corner and far away in Lebanon made my past of  weekend (January 18-20), poignant with significant personal events.

Working backwards, Sunday was moving day. Our daughter Sarah, after a semester of commuting to San Diego State University from our home, moved into a dormitory for her second semester. I once again experienced the difficult art of letting go.

Her departure was rough on the old man. While many have experienced a child leaving home, my role as the at-home parent, a.k.a mister mom, and at a substantially older age than most parents, made Sarah’s departure particularly emotional.

The day before, Saturday, January 19, I became an old man according to the Beatles. On their “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band,” album, McCartney sang “When I’m 64.” I reached that magic number. Robert E. Lee reached birthday 200.

Friday, the beginning of this significant weekend, the initiating event was sad. My mother, Estelle Jewell, called to inform me Erma Baird passed away.

Mrs. Baird, her husband Charlie, and their daughter, Sharry Baird Hager, have been a part of my life, literally since I was born. Sharry, Henry Harding, and I were baptized on the same Sunday at the Lebanon First Methodist Episcopal Church South on East Main in the late spring of 1944.

Erma is one of my wife’s favorite people in Lebanon.

On one trip to Lebanon, Charlie and Erma came to call while we visited my parents. Mischievously, Erma smiled and said, “I have something for you.” She gave Maureen pictures of a play the Methodist Youth Fellowship produced when I was fourteen. Many friends were co-stars but somehow I had been chosen to play Jesus as a young boy.

Maureen focused on this goofy looking guy at center stage, complete with a page boy wig, knee-length toga, and madras Bermuda shorts showing underneath as he sat spread-legged on a stool. I am not sure Maureen has ever completely recovered from laughing at the photo.

Erma, of course, loved the reaction.

The women of the “greatest” generation, as labeled by Tom Brokaw, were an incredible group of people. Their role through the Depression, World War II, and its aftermath was the synthesis for change. They balanced being a housewife and mother with pioneering equality in the workplace. They were strong; they were supportive; they were always busy.

Erma Baird had all the characteristics of the women of her generation. She was also one of the sweetest, loving women who ever walked the face of the earth. It seemed to me she loved everybody and could always find something good about any person or any situation.

She was that way when I can first remember her in my life, and she was that way when I visited her just before Christmas.

Even though, I am some 2,000 miles from Lebanon, the impact of losing Mrs. Baird hit me hard.

In the middle of all of these significant events, my daughter Blythe informs me my grandson Sam has spoken his first words, “Kitty Cat,” and is obviously connecting the word to the two felines who reside with him. It was a big day for the Jewell household. We are informed of Sam’s “firsts” almost daily, but a baby starting to talk is a giant step.

Years ago, a great deal of this weekend’s events would have washed over me. I would have kept on “chooglin’” along as Creedence Clearwater Revival exhorted me to do.

But late that Sunday evening, I sat before the fading embers in the family room fireplace and reflected: The world continues to change with significant events. Letting go of children, getting older, losing friends who have completed life’s cycle, and welcoming new friends into the cycle is constant. If all of us can deal with the cycle as have Erma and Charlie Baird, my parents, and many, others of that generation in Lebanon, we will be all right.

Note: i would have included the photo here in this edition of the column, but Maureen was adamant i should not.

A Tenting We Will Go

This was begun yesterday just after noon. It was interrupted when the tenting and fumigation team arrived. It went downhill from there.

No, no: we are not going camping. i was never big on that, and my wife, after backpacking through Europe for three summers after high school has sworn she will never travel where she will have to spend a night without a ceramic toilet.

They could be here in a minute, with the early end of their window as noon, and the late end of their window as 2:00 p.m.

i’m betting close to or after the later time.

i will have participated or been subject to this process three times by the time this is over sometime this weekend. i don’t hate many things, but i hated the first two times of this process. i hate this one even more.

i don’t remember anywhere but here in the Southwest corner seeing this. Perhaps that is because this process was not available when i was growing up in Lebanon, and in the other 19 places i have lived, i was probably not there long enough to see it happen.

The process is called, technically “fumigation.” We call it “tenting.” It doesn’t have a thing to do with camping out. And “tenting” definitely is not referring to a good time.

It seems innocent enough. These guys pull up in their trucks. We leave. They put a circus looking tent over the house, seal it from outside air, then pump this god-awful gas crap inside to kill everything, termites and all, and i mean everything.

It ain’t simple.

First, there is the prep work and consultation. This takes about three months with an uncountable number of  phone calls, almost as many meetings, and oh, about ten years out of your life. This does not count the local treatment sessions you have been enduring about a half-dozen times a year for the past three or four years (hoping you can avoid “tenting”). You have to clear the sides of the house of any plants by eighteen inches. Then, you have to take indoor plants, pets, and humans (unless it is someone you really don’t like) someplace else for at least four days. Next, any foodstuffs or other liquids and about twenty thousand other specified objects must be removed and stored somewhere other than inside the house. If you leave any foodstuffs in the house, you must double bag and seal them. Now i have learned this list of things to remove grows exponentially when women, i.e. my wife and daughter, make the list because they are super cautious, which i guess, is a good thing but a pain in the…oh, i almost forgot myself there. And then you leave, worried about what the tenters are going to kill in spite of your best efforts, how many of the Spanish roof tiles they are going to break, hoping beyond hope you haven’t left anything inside that should not be there, and worrying about thieves breaking in and stealing what you did leave inside (this has become a new but fairly common occurrence in the Southwest corner: damned low life).

Oh yeh, then you have to find some place to stay for two nights. Sarah and her dog are staying with one of her friends. Our cats are being boarded by our vet. We are staying with our friends whom we will never be able to thank enough for taking care of us on many occasions: Pete and Nancy Toennies. There were a few moments after i foolishly offered to sleep in the front yard to ensure those criminals did not invade the house i actually thought Maureen might see as reasonable.

Friday, the tent comes off, and we can tentatively, cautiously reenter. But oh, oh, it’s not done yet. We must retrieve the pets. Then, we must start moving all that stuff back to our house. This time we elected to take up the offer of our neighbor’s across the street, Spud and Vonda Mumby, who graciously offered us space in their garage, including things for inside the refrigerator out there. i figure moving all of that stuff back and putting it in its proper place, perhaps a new more desired location will take about a year. And of course, we need to move back all of the things we moved at least eighteen inches away from the house. Whew.

But, now you have to assess damages. The roof tile guys are standing by. i’m guessing this whole thing will be behind us by Christmas.

Termites. i hate them. Three times they have required us to tent. i hate them more each time. i also hate them as i take routine inspections of the house and garage looking for their droppings from eating away my house. Gross. Always a threat. i hate termites. i do not know what useful function they serve in this environmental system. Hate ’em.

So, i’m sitting here waiting for the tenters to show up, wondering if they prefer to be called tenters or fumigators. They have another half-hour to be inside their window. Since i am starving, i’m guessing they won’t make it until later, about supper time.

i have started a poem here below. i may finish it before they get here.

the evil hoards wait in the canyons
hiding, building up their strength
to swarm upwards, penetrating our peace,
our home…

Well. the boys got here. Big open bay truck with rolls and rolls of tenting material. Hidalgo, whose name means of noble birth, which i might have named a son had i known the translation and had a son, and a great movie about a horse of that name, takes a tour around the house with us in tow. He is extremely complimentary of all of our preps. We reach the end of our tour where a fence extends from our house to the end of our property and then right angles back to a concrete block pillar and beyond.

“Hollow,” Hidalgo nods knowingly as he smacks it with the bottom of his fist, “Hollow,” he repeats. Then he explains “Ag” requires there not be an escape for something as i imagined a gazillion termites swarming out of the house through this five foot tall five-inch wide stucco fence. Maureen knew better and later explained escaping gas was the concern, and i finally understood because this stuff would have won World War I had the other side had it in their possession (and wiped out possibly millions of the good guys). “Ag” i believe stands for Agriculture and is a government agency of some power from some branch of the local, state, federal governments or possibly the United Nations in the termite business. They send out an inspector to ensure tenting meets their requirements before the killer gas is allowed to be pumped in our house.

Maureen objects, noting we’ve gone through this ordeal twice before and they simply taped the tenting around the fence to ensure it didn’t escape. Well apparently, some good ole well-intentioned Ag decided this procedure was flawed.

Having worked with government agencies before and therefore knowing there was no way in hell the Ag’s would ever waiver from this requirement, i fearfully asked Hidalgo what could we do.

His answer: cut a gap in the fence near the house where they could take the tent to the ground. By this time, it was about 2:45. i am thinking i could do it with my chain saw, but being realistic for a change, i realize this would take me about two days, and i really didn’t want this to last any longer than scheduled. After all, i hate termites.

i again asked Hidalgo what we could do, and he told me, they had to tent back to something solid, like the concrete block pillar. i become optimistic, and show Hidalgo how this might be done. But he pointed out the fence keeps going straight on my neighbor’s property and that would be an escape route for the gas. i counter. The gate is hinged on a four-inch steel piece that runs from the top to the bottom of the fence. Hidalgo concurs but then points to the small bushes and trees hugging the fence on the neighbor’s side of the fence.

“Hey, no problem,” i say, “i can cut them down and clear eighteen inches,” noting, “i’m sure Regina would be okay with that.”

Hidalgo, “We have to have her permission.”

me: “But she’s not home.”

Hidalgo: “We have to have her permission.”

Somewhere in this exchange because Hidalgo’s English is not real good, Willie of the team joined the three of us and there has been a running phone conversation with their supervisor.

me: “Well, i can call her and she will tell you it’s okay.” Then i yell for Maureen to call Vonda to get Regina’s phone number because we lost her number. Maureen efficiently goes about her business and is calling Vonda.

While all of this is going on, one of the five tenters is standing in our front yard and a very large bumble bee takes a liking to him and begins dive bombing his head. So in the middle of this discussion, this guy is running all over the neighborhood, swinging his long-sleeved shirt around him in a fruitless effort to ward off the bee while the other tenters are laughing hysterically at the comic scene.

Willie: “It has to be written approval.”

me: “Isn’t there some way we can get around that? Can i talk to your boss or call the Ag guys and talk some sense into them?”

Willie: “Won’t do no good.”

i knew he was right but wanted to try. “You know, i’m pretty good at that kind of thing.”

Willie sort of shakes his head knowingly.

Maureen then informs us she has talked to neighbor Regina who is on the way home. The bee attack continues with accompanying raucous laughter. i ask the two tenters if i wrote up an approval for Regina to sign, would that be good enough. Willie informs me that it takes a certain form. The tenters, of course, don’t have a blank form in the truck. The boss has it at the office.

We discuss how long it would take for me to get some one more capable (and younger) than me to create the gap. Hidalgo informs me if we could effect the cut or have Regina’s written approval and clear the plants by the next morning, they could tent then and we could return to our home sometime Saturday.

i am resigned, sadly.

The boss calls.

Willie: “They are sending out someone to cut the gap and we will restore the fence after the tenting.”

i am as close to being the happiest man in the world who has ever gone through the tenting process, which really is not all that happy.

Hidalgo: “We can start tenting now and finish when the gap is cut tonight. So  we will call you around noon Friday to let you know it’s okay to come back.”

Hurray.

i thought we were through. But then Regina pulls into her driveway anxious to help us and sign the non-existing approval form. The explanations including the whys follow.

At last the ordeal is over…almost.

We had Nancy’s wonderful spaghetti dinner last night. Pete and i played golf early this morning. We will have supper tonight at a new Coronado restaurant. After golf, i drove home to check out the tenting. They did a good job. i think. It does look like we are having a circus inside.

So it is working out well…until we start the moving back in process tomorrow.

To hell with the poem. i hate termites, even dead ones.

A Football Record and a Typo

This column ran in The Lebanon Democrat, October 20, 2015. It remains one of my favorite stories.

SAN DIEGO – If this story has been told here before, I apologize, but if it was here, it appeared a long time ago, and my filing system, such as it is, shows no mention.

Over a decade ago, my friend Jimmy Gamble sent me a letter containing an old sports article. I scanned the story and emailed it to a number of people. Marty Linville, one of my Friday morning golf buddies, responded. Marty, who played football at Pittsburg State in Kansas (the Gorillas won the NCAA Division II championship in 2011, added a play-by-play description of one touchdown. I believe that email exchange is the only time I wrote about this incident.

Regardless, it is a great story and good for my ego.

Jimmy Gamble, who sent the original letter is now retired from the defense industry and lives in Huntsville. He became my close friend when his family moved to Lebanon in 1956. His father Barney became one of the most respected and longest termed principals in Lebanon.

Jimmy and I played football and basketball together from our first year at Lebanon Junior High School until graduating from Castle Heights in 1962. We went to church together and ran around town in his used Renault Dauphine, one of the earliest models. In our final years at Heights, Jimmy and I dreamed of getting football scholarships to Michigan together. Of course, it was a pipe dream. Jimmy and I played our last football with the 1962 Mid-South Champion Tigers.

There were some low spots in the middle, but we started and finished on high notes. Our first team’s success is well documented. The 1956 Lebanon Junior High Colts ran the table for an 8-0 season in 1956 when Jimmy and I were subs and seventh graders.

We finished on the 1961 Mid-South champion Castle Heights Tigers, with a 6-2 record. One of those losses was 6-0 to Furman (Va.) Junior College, ranked the number four junior college in the country.

One of our successful seasons has been mostly overlooked. In our eighth grade year, the Colts posted a 7-1 record with a lone loss to Pulaski. That game was the first football contest we lost, the only one in our two years of junior high school. I don’t remember the score, but I do remember being devastated. I didn’t think it was possible to lose until then. I cried on the way back to our dressing room.

Jimmy’s letter included a clipping that made the loss, almost a half-century earlier, less painful. The Democrat article described our Colts win over Shelbyville, 27-6. The game was played on a Thursday evening at Alumni Memorial Field, now the site of Sellars Funeral Home that was Lebanon High’s home field until the school moved across town to Harding Drive.

That game was a high point for me. I scored my only touchdown in six years of playing organized football. I remember my feelings quite well. I was excited but sad because my father was in Atlanta at a Pontiac meeting and missed it. Little did I realize, he would never get the opportunity to see me score again (Ironically five years later at Heights, my mother missed the only home run I hit, and my father told her it made them even).

But the article Jimmy sent revealed I had not only scored a touchdown, I set a record for yards covered on a punt return for a score, at any level of the sport.

After describing how Shelbyville scored on a “Statue of Liberty” play towards the end of the first half to narrow our lead to 13-6, the narration captures my record run:

“Early in the second half, Shelbyville punted and Jimmy Jewell returned the kick 447 yards to a touchdown.”

No one, no one, I boast, has ever run FOUR HUNDRED AND FORTY SEVEN yards on a punt return except me. My friend Marty described the run as a twisting, cutting back, reversing the field, slashing, stiff-arming run of Homeric proportion.

Alas, I must confess, the Democrat had a slip up. The “447” yards described as my zenith in any sport was the product of a typo. An extra four had slipped from the linotype machine. My record was not a record. My only touchdown was only a 47-yard return, good but certainly not heroic.

First Row: Bobby Buhler, Russell Witt, Don Shipper, Buddy Phillips, Jim Jewell, Jim Gamble, Bill Cowan, LeRoy Dowdy, Eddie Dedman, Jimmy Majors; Second Row: John Bradley, Bobby Byrd, Fred Andrews, Jimmy Patterson, Billy Jennings, Rob Eatherly, Paul Thomas, Jimmy Wright, Jimmy Mitchell; Third Row: Sam Moore, Mike Gannaway, Henry Harding, John Walker, assistant coach Miles McMillan, Townley Johnson, Malcolm Metcalf, Fred Croslin.

 

Reflections

i am experimenting with a new whateveryoucallit system, hoping it will make the posts better for you. But i remain technology challenged. So i hope it works. If not, i will once again call upon my friend, the multi-media astonishingly great Walker Hicks to help.

i also have been reticent to post much of anything here lately. i could blame it on a number of things, but to be honest, i just haven’t quite felt like it. Oh, i’ve been doing some writing, but it has been it struck me to do so, not because i have had to write. 

So as i try to move forward and get my stuff in order, again and again and again as The Highwaymen once sang, i decided to post this old one.

i don’t know where i actually posted this. It was a while ago. It may have been a long lost post. It could be, and i move in this direction, a Democrat column. but i don’t know and am not really interested in finding out. i just stumbled across it tonight. It struck some chords.

i don’t know why but John Kennedy’s assassination kept coming up in my mind tonight. It was just over a month and 55 years ago. A long time. It reminded me of Nashville and Vanderbilt where, when walking back from class (yeh, i actually attended most of my classes, believe it or not) Winston Churchill’s nephew Charlie, a distinguished chap, came out of the Beta house and asked me and several others if we had heard the President had been shot. Kennedy had been shot and i gathered with the other Kappa Sigma brothers around the radio and listened until the news folks reported he was dead. Stunned. In disbelief.

And somehow, that terrible moment in time put me in tune with the below post or column or whatever it was. This was written several years ago.

So i share:

Dirt, Rain

It is always, always nostalgic for me when I visit home as I have this week (hence, no San Diego dateline).

Thursday when I drove up the hill of Castle Heights Avenue, nostalgia whacked me in the face with a flat-bladed shovel.

McFadden Auditorium was gone. Tilled brown dirt covered the lot where the old regal edifice had dominated the skyline since 1941. McFadden always comes to my mind when I hear a school sing the lines in their alma mater:

“On the city’s western border,
“Reared against the sky
“Proudly stands our Alma Mater
“As the years roll by.”

The tune I associate with alma maters came from the 1857 big hit, “Annie Lisle.” Written by H.S. Thompson of Boston, the lyrics were far from inspirational, telling of the demise of a young damsel, presumably of tuberculosis, or consumption as it was called back then. Yet the tune was picked up by scores of high schools and colleges for their alma mater.

The most familiar lyrics were originally written for Vanderbilt in 1907 by Robert H. Vaughn, but I have heard those lyrics adapted for schools across the country, including my daughter’s high school, Bonita Vista, in the Southwest corner.

But when I hear those words, I think of McFadden Auditorium reared against the sky.

No more.

On my drive, I turned down Hill Street to be face-whacked by that nostalgia shovel again. More dirt and even a few houses had taken over the old Heights drill field. Although I missed most drill periods for athletics, the freshman and junior varsity football practice fields were part of the freshly tilled dirt as well.

Thus far, the baseball diamond and football practice field have been spared from development mania, but there are large bushes occupying the former location of the visitors’ dugout, and the bushes and  on the south end of the old field have extended to where home run distance to fenceless center field now would be about 300 feet, not forever like back when the Tigers were swinging away.

Whack, whack went the nostalgia shovel.

Some of the best moments of my life were spent on that football practice field and baseball diamond long, long ago.

The next day, I drove to Vanderbilt to explore some possibilities I have had in mind for some time. The next shovel whack came when I tried to park. In my two-plus years there, cars were few and far between. A number of upper class-men had cars, but that was about it.

Thinking plentiful parking would be next to the stadium, I drove to the west end of the campus. No spaces. I finally parked in Centennial Park and walked across West End to the campus.

I believe Vanderbilt has shrunk over the last fifty years. I do not know if it’s the newer buildings, the additions and design pleasing modifications to old ones, or the trees have grown that much, but everything seems more compact than in 1962. Yep. Another whack of nostalgia.

Of course, I did not take a campus map, and recalling where to go and how to get there was complicated by faulty memory and new obstacles. I eventually succeeded and accomplished my mission, but I observed the changes in detail.

Perhaps the most obvious change was dress. The uniformity of madras shirt, khaki pants, and weejun loafers for males, and skirts and blouses for females had been replaced by another uniform approach: shorts, tee shirts, and flip flops.

Returning to my car before noon, I walked by a fraternity house just I had done 46 years and ten months ago. It was like reliving a dream. That day many years ago, a student was standing at the door of the fraternity house shouting, “Kennedy’s been shot. It’s on the news. The president’s been shot.”

Friday, the fraternity house was fenced in, undergoing refurbishment. Whack went that old nostalgia shovel one more time.

But in my meanderings through the first half of my visit, I felt the late summer rain on Thursday morning, I smelled the grass as I walked through Centennial Park and Don Fox Community Park, and I talked to people who were just as friendly and concerned as they were those years ago. There is a difference between those things here and in the Southwest corner. But there also are ca lot of things alike in both places.

Some things never change, and that is a good thing.